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then these things happen in despite of all his care and observation; and when he does espy any of these obliquities, he is troubled at it, and seeks to amend it: and therefore, these things are venial, that is, pitied and excused, because they are unavoidable, but avoided as much as they well can (all things considered), and God does not exact them of him, because the good man exacts them of himself. These being the rules of doctrine, we are to practise accordingly.
To which add the following measures.
46. VI. This difference in sins, of mortal and venial, that is, greater and less, is not to be considered by us, but by God alone, and cannot have influence upon us to any good purposes. For, 1. We do not always know by what particular measures they are lessened in general we know some proportions of them, but when we come to particulars, we may easily be deceived, but can very hardly be exact. St. Austin said the same thing "Quæ sint levia, et quæ gravia peccata, non humano sed Divino sunt pensanda judicio :" "God only, not man, can tell which sins are great, and which little."-For since we see them equally forbidden, we must with equal care avoid them all. Indeed, if the case should be so put, that we must either commit sacrilege, or tell a spiteful lie, kill a man, or speak unclean words, then it might be of use to us, to consider which is the greater, which is less, that, of evils we might choose the less: but this case can never be, for no man is ever brought to that necessity, that he must choose one sin; for he can choose to die before he shall do either, and that is the worst that he can be put to. And therefore, though right reason and experience, and some general lines of religion, mark out some actions as criminal, and leave others under a general and indefinite condemnation, yet it is in order to repentance and amends when such things are done, not to greater caution directly of avoiding them in the days of temptation; for of two infinites in the same kind, one cannot be bigger than the other. We are tied with the biggest care to avoid every sin, and bigger than the biggest we find not. This only for the avoiding of the greatest sins, there are more arguments from without, and sometimes more instruments and ministries of caution and
z Enchirid. cap. 78.
prevention are to be used, than in lesser sins; but it is because fewer will serve in one than in another; but all that is needful must be used in all: but there is no difference in our choice that can be considerable, for we must never choose either; and therefore beforehand to compare them together, whereof neither is to be preferred before the other, is to lay a snare for ourselves, and make us apt to one by undervaluing it, and calling it less than others, that affright us more. Indeed, when the sin is done, to measure it may be of use (as I shall shew), but to do it beforehand hath danger in it of be ing tempted, and more than a danger of being deceived: for our hearts deceive us, our purposes are complicated, and we know not which end is principally intended, nor by what argument, amongst many, we were finally determined, or which is the prevailing ingredient; nor are we competent judges of our own strengths, and we can do more than we think we can; and we remember not, that the temptation which prevails, was sought for by ourselves; nor can we separate necessity from choice, our consent from our being betrayed; nor tell whether our fort is given up, because we would do so, or because we could not help it. Who can tell whether he could not stand one assault more,-and, if he had, whether or no the temptation would not have left him? The ways of consent are not always direct, and if they be crooked, we see them not. And, after all this, if we were able, yet we are not willing, to judge right, with truth, and with severity; something for ourselves, something for excuse, something for pride; a little for vanity, and a little in hypocrisy, but a great deal for peace and quiet, that the rest of the mind may not be disturbed, that we may live and die in peace, and in a good opinion of ourselves. These indeed are evil measures, but such by which we usually make judgment of our actions, and are therefore likely to call great sins little, and little sins none at all.
47. II. That any sins are venial being only because of the state of grace and repentance, under which they are admitted; what condition a man is in, even for the smallest sins, he can no more know than he can tell that all his other sins are pardoned, that his repentance is accepted, that nothing of God's anger is reserved, that he is pleased for all, that there is no judgment behind hanging over his head, to
strike him for that wherein he was most negligent. Now although some men have great and just confidences that they are actually in God's favour, yet all good men have not so. For there are coverings sometimes put over the spirits of the best men; and there are intermedial and doubtful states of men (as I shall represent in the chapter of actual sins), there are also ebbings and flowings of sin and pardon and therefore, none but God only knows how long this state of veniality and pardon will last; and therefore, as no man can pronounce concerning any kind of sins, that they are in themselves venial, so neither can he know concerning his own, or any man's particular state, that any such sins are pardoned, or venial to him. He that lives a good life, will find it so in its own case, and in the event of things; and that is all which can be said as to this particular; and it is well it is so, "ne studium proficiendi ad omnia peccata cavenda pigrescat," as St. Austin well observed. If it were otherwise, and that sins in their own nature by venial and not venial are distinguished and separate in their natures from each other, and that some of them are of so easy remedy, and inconsiderable a guilt, they would never become earnest to avoid all.
48. III. There are some sins which indeed seem venial, and were they not sentenced in Scripture with severe words, would pass for trifles; but "in Scripturis demonstrantur opinione graviora," as St. Austin notes; "they are by the word of God declared to be greater than they are thought to be;" and we have reason to judge so, concerning many instances, in which men are too easy and cruelly kind unto themselves. St. Paul said, "I had not known concupiscence to be a sin, if the law had not said, Thou shalt not lust :" and we use to call them scrupulous and fantastic persons, who make much ado about a careless word, and call themselves to severe account for every thought, and are troubled for every morsel they eat, when it can be disputed whether it might not better have been spared. Who could have guessed that calling my enemy 'fool' should be so great a matter; but because we are told that it is so; told by him that shall be our judge, who shall call us to account for every idle word; we may well think that the measures which men usually make by their customs and false principles, and their own necessities, lest
a Enchirid. 79.
they by themselves should be condemned, are weak and fallacious and therefore, whatsoever can be of truth in the difference of sins, may become a danger to them who desire to distinguish them, but can bring no advantages to the interests of piety and a holy life.
49. IV. We only account those sins great which are unusual, which rush violently against the conscience, because men have not been acquainted with them: "Peccata sola inusitata exhorrescimus, usitata verò diligimus." But those which they act every day, they suppose them to be small, ' quotidianæ incursiones,' the unavoidable acts of every day, and by degrees our spirit is reconciled to them, conversing with them as with a tame wolf, who by custom hath forgotten the circumstances of his barbarous nature, but is a wolf still. Τὰ μικρὰ καὶ συνήθη τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων, as Synesius calls them: 'the little customs of sinning,' men think, ought to be dissembled. This was so of old; Cæsarius, bishop of Arles, complained of it in his time. "Vere dico fratres," &c. "I say truly to you, brethren, this thing, according to the law and commandment of our Lord, never was lawful, neither is it, nor shall it ever be; but as if it were worse, 'ita peccata ista in consuetudinem missa sunt, et tanti sunt qui illa faciunt, ut jam quasi ex licito fieri credantur,' these sins are so usual and common, that men now begin to think them lawful.'”—And, indeed, who can do a sin every day, and think it great and highly damnable? If he think so, it will be very uneasy for him to keep it: but, if he will keep it, he will also endeavour to get some protection or excuse for it; something to warrant, or something to undervalue it; and at last it shall be accounted venial, and by some means or other reconcilable with the hopes of heaven. He that is used to oppress the poor every day, thinks he is a charitable man, if he lets them go away with any thing he could have taken from them: but he is not troubled in conscience for detaining the wages of the hireling, with deferring to do justice, with little arts of exaction and lessening their provisions. For since nothing is great or little but in comparison with something else, he accounts his sin small, because he commits greater; and he that can suffer the greatest burden, shrinks not under a
b August. ubi suprà.
e Hom, 16.
lighter weight; and upon this account it is impossible but such men must be deceived and die.
50. V. Let no man think that his venial or smaller sins shall be pardoned for the smallness of their matter, and in a distinct account; for a man is not quit of the smallest but by being also quit of the greatest: for God does not pardon any sin to him that remains his enemy; and therefore, unless the man be a good man, and in the state of grace, he cannot hope that his venial sins can be in any sense indulged; they increase the burden of the other, and are like little stones laid upon a shoulder already crushed with an unequal load. Either God pardons the greatest, or the least stand uncancelled.
51. VI. Although God never pardons the smallest without the greatest, yet he sometimes retains the smallest, of them, whose greatest he hath pardoned. The reason is, because although a man be in the state of grace and of the di vine favour, and God will not destroy his servants for every calamity of theirs, yet he will not suffer any thing that is amiss in them. A father never pardons the small offences of his son who is in rebellion against him; those little offences cannot pretend to pardon till he be reconciled to his father; but, if he be, yet his father may chastise his little misdemeanours, or reserve some of his displeasure so far as may minister to discipline, not to destruction: and therefore if a son have escaped his father's anger and final displeasure, let him remember, that though his father is not willing to disinherit him, yet he will be ready to chastise him. And we see it by the whole dispensation of God, that the righteous are punished,' and afflictions begin at the house of God;' and God is so impatient even of little evils in them, that to make them pure he will draw them through the fire; and there are some who are 'saved, yet so as by fire.' And certainly, those sins ought not to be neglected, or esteemed little, which provoke God to anger even against his servants. We find this instanced in the case of the Corinthians, who used indecent circumstances and unhandsome usages of the blessed sacrament; even for this, God severely reproved them; "for this cause many are weak, and sick, and some are fallen asleep","
d 1 Cor. xi. 30.